When Citizens Become the Nail

Ferguson is a mess. If journalists can be arrested for no reason whatsoever, (hauled out of a McDonald’s, with their press credentials clearly visible) just imagine how average citizens of Ferguson are being treated.

Mistrust is at the heart of all that is happening there. Police are unwilling to answer even the most basic questions about the Michael Brown case. Only three of Ferguson’s 50-plus police officers are African-American. Seventy-percent of the population is African-American. You do the math.

coppicYes, the police do have a higher burden on them…to act responsibly, to de-escalate tensions whenever they can. Why can’t the police understand that their failure to release the officer’s name makes every officer, in riot gear, look like an accomplice? Why can’t the police understand that the very presence of these SWAT teams are escalating the problem? There’s no reason for a SWAT team member to aim rifles into a peaceful crowd, or to point it at the chest of a journalist. (Both happened yesterday…)

Yesterday was a day of peaceful protests in Ferguson. It was a de-escalation on the part of the citizens there. The police could have responded in kind, by de-escalating the scope of their SWAT-like response. They did not do this.

So, yes, there’s a racial component to what’s happening in Ferguson. But everything happening there is greatly exacerbated by the militarization of local police. First, the federal government gave grants to fight the “War on Drugs.” Then, they gave grants to fight the “War on Terror.” Police forces in peaceful suburbs now routinely train and use SWAT-style weapons for the hordes of Islamic terrorists descending upon them (turn your sarcasm detectors on).

I point you toward this excellent summary from Newsweek. Here’s the golden nugget in this story, which makes the point I am trying to make here:

“Given the proliferation of military weapons and military training among America’s police departments, the use of military force and military tactics is not surprising. When your only tool is a hammer, after all, every problem looks like a nail.”

I point to these two additional resources. First, this report from the progressive ACLU. Then, a similar report from the conservative Cato Institute.

The militarization of local police in America brings fear to everyone. It’s a big part of what’s driving the fear of African-Americans on the streets of Ferguson. However, it’s also a big part of what drives the fear of White people espousing “Open Carry” here in Texas. Militarized police raise fear and anxiety in a cross-racial way.

The hostility and anger on all sides is palpable. Here’s an excellent essay from Salon, on the entire situation, that focuses on Black Anger:

“Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us.  They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”

Ferguson is not Baghdad. It’s not even Cairo. Our citizens have rights. Our police have responsibilities. The police have made many tactical mistakes in these past few days.

And, most importantly, our citizens are not nails to be pounded by a SWAT-team hammer.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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